Russian Information Politics as a Tool for Hybrid Warfare

Living in an information society dictates the new terms of conducting warfare, and Russia has succeeded in rethinking the art of war, combining brute military force with way more refined weapon — information operations. This has implications not only for the Russian-Ukrainian war — the hybrid influence has always been one of the Kremlin’s key instruments in promoting its toxic narratives both within the country and abroad. A “guarantee of information security” is also a shrine on the state level, in official documents. 

Russia’s National Security Strategy 

Russia’s national security strategy is a prime example of the importance of information influence. The revised version of this document was approved by President Vladimir Putin on July 2. In this document, such goals are inter alia mentioned as Russia’s national priorities: 

  • “development of safe information security, protection of Russian society from destructive information-psychological influence”;
  • “strengthening of Russian traditional spiritual and moral values, the preservation of the cultural and historical heritage of the Russian people”.

The strategy also states that “the strengthening of military dangers and threats to the Russian Federation is facilitated by attempts to use force pressure on Russia, its allies and partners, the NATO’s build-up of the military infrastructure next to the Russian borders, the intensification of military activities, the development of the use of large military formations and nuclear weapons against Russian Federation”. This reinforces the common Kremlin paradigm of Russia as the only opponent to the hostile West usually represented by the USA, its allies, and particularly NATO.   

The permanent concept of fighting the treacherous “external enemy” has subdued all state and state-dependent private institutions in Russia. The evidence can be easily found in the above-mentioned document: “Unfriendly countries are trying to use the existing social-economic problems of the Russian Federation to destroy its inner unity, to inspire and radicalize the protest movement, to support the marginal groups and to shatter the society. The indirect methods are used more and more often to provoke long-term instability in Russian Federation”. The dichotomy between the Western and Russian worlds is a logical continuation of the Soviet tradition and implies indirect methods of hybrid influence, which may be applied not only in politics but also in economic, cultural, and virtually any other field.

However, the traditional power-play still cannot be underestimated since in 2020 Russia’s military expenditure reached $61.7 billion or 4.3% of GDP (compared to the USA with 4.1% of GDP). Russian president explains the militarization of the budget as “solving the problems related to the creation of modern Military Forces and the integrated strengthening of defense capabilities which cannot be postponed”. In other words, the Kremlin interprets the adage “Si vis pacem, para bellum” way too literally. At the same time, the very idea of the war is now quickly transforming so the role of non-military ways of reaching political and strategic goals has grown, and in many cases, its effectiveness surpasses that of the force of arms. 

Using the information as a “soft power” the Kremlin along with institutions such as the “Russkiy Mir Foundation” (an organization, created in 2007 by Vladimir Putin’s decree to spread the Russian language and Russian values worldwide) promotes the messianic role of Russia with its spiritual and ethical foundations as a separate civilization in opposition to the “decadent” West. In the Kremlin’s crusade for saving “Russianness”, official Russian policy documents mention the Russian diaspora as ‘ethnic Russians’, ‘Russian speakers’, ‘cultural Russians’, ‘compatriots’, ‘countrymen abroad’, or ‘fellow tribesmen’. This formulation is also often used by the Kremlin as an excuse to “protect” these people as “subjects of the Russian World” who need to be protected by their “historic motherland”, inter alia through military intervention, as it happened with Ukraine in 2014. 

For the “Russian World” quasi-ideology, the Russian language is a powerful pillar in the “Russian world” architecture — and so is Russian culture and history, more or less transformed to correspond to the Kremlin needs. Russian Orthodox church is also used as a tool of hybrid influence abroad (inter alia, to normalize Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and provoke the guilt complex in Ukrainians) to promote societal polarization and key narratives of the Kremlin propaganda. This all is used to undermine the stability of other states, e.g. with the politicization of the national legislations as oppressive and forming movements or even political parties that would advance the Kremlin’s interests in the given state (Ukraine and Lithuania being exemplary cases).

The Foreign Policy Concept and the Doctrine of Information Security

Whitewashing the internal struggles of the regime is established, among other documents, by the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, which aims at “consolidating the Russian Federation’s position as a center of influence in today’s world” and states that “Russia seeks to ensure that the world has an objective image of the country, develops its effective ways to influence foreign audiences, promotes Russian and Russian-language media in the global information space, providing them with necessary government support, is proactive in international information cooperation, and takes necessary steps to counter threats to its information security.”

Such actions are presented by Russian authorities as a logical response to “unfriendly actions threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russian Federation” as well as to the challenges laid out in the Doctrine of Information Security, including:

  • “a trend among foreign media to publish an increasing number of materials containing biased assessments of State policy of the Russian Federation”.
  • “Russian mass media often face blatant discrimination abroad, and Russian journalists are prevented from performing their professional duties”.
  • “There is a growing information pressure on the population of Russia, primarily on the Russian youth, to erode Russian traditional spiritual and moral values.”

However, every act of analysis and criticism of the Russian policy is treated by the Kremlin as “biased material”, and the fact that Russian state-dependent media (such as Russia-1, Russia-24, Russia Today, and Sputnik) are perceived as the instruments of the Kremlin propaganda, is portrayed as “discrimination”. 

As the Kremlin is consistently implementing its politics of reversing and misinterpreting the truth, keeping the military aggression beneath the mask of “protection”, reflecting it in strategic documentation, and making the international community accept such a course of events. Nowadays, Putin’s Russia chooses to go to war with the whole world and does not even bother to hide its real face behind the façade of “sovereign democracy”: when it comes to the Kremlin, the attack is still the best form of defense.